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Everglades National Park - Florida

American Crocodile
American Crocodile, Flamingo Marina - Everglades

Joe Kegley | E-Mail | Updated 01-15-08

Anhinga with chicks

Anhinga with chicks, Anhinga Trail - Everglades
- Joe Kegley


At over 1.5 million acres (over 2300 square miles), the Everglades National Park is the third-largest national park in the contiguous United States. The park contains the largest designated wilderness area east of the Mississippi.

The Everglades are usually thought of as a sawgrass marsh, but there are many other distinct habitats within the park boundaries, including pinelands, cypress sloughs, hardwood hammocks, and mangrove forest.

There are pull-off areas within the park for the auto tour vacationer to experience most of these habitats. Should one prefer something bolder, the Everglades National Park offers backcountry canoe camping on the 99-mile wilderness waterway. The park also contains many day-trip canoe and hiking trails for the not-so-bold but 'want more than an auto tour' crowd. Guided boat tours are offered at the Flamingo marina. An entrance fee is required to enter the park (7 Day Pass).

While there are many ways to enter the Everglades N.P., there are 3 main park sponsored access points; the Ernest Coe Visitor Center entrance outside of Homestead, the Shark Valley entrance off of the Tamiami Trail, and the Gulf Coast visitor center at Everglades City. Note that the Gulf Coast entrance is strictly by water. You will need a boat if you choose that entrance.

Osprey Chicks

Osprey Chicks, Flamingo Marina - Everglades
- Joe Kegley

Nature Perspective

Birds. Birds. Birds.

During the dry season (winter), Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Green Herons, Anhinga, Cormorants, and Wood Storks, can usually be observed behind the Royal Palm visitor center (Anhinga Trail). Anhinga regularly nest during January in this area. In addition one might be lucky enough to encounter a Purple Gallinule, American Bittern, or a Least Bittern in the area. Also keep an eye out for wintering Painted Bunting.

Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks sometimes nest at Paurotis Pond, an easy pull-off from the main park road. Roseate Spoonbills are also occasionally encountered wading in Mrazek Pond, another pull-off from the main park road.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule, Anhinga Trail - Everglades
- Joe Kegley

Osprey and their nests are commonly found on route to and in the Flamingo area. Pay special attention to the Flamingo area. There is usually a couple of nests in the parking lot trees. Recently a pair have been nesting on the boat lift over the plug. Red-shoulder Hawks are commonly found throughout the park while Bald Eagles can sometimes be observed closer to open water areas, though less frequently than the other raptors mentioned.

Alligators are abundant in most of the fresh water ponds and sloughs. Whether auto touring or experiencing the bolder forms of travel, one is almost guaranteed to see gators where there is fresh water.

The most accessible place to see the endangered American Crocodile is at the Flamingo marina. On sunny days during the winter, one can usually find a couple of them across the canal behind the marina store, basking in the sun.

American Alligator

American Alligator, Anhinga Trail - Everglades
- Joe Kegley

The endangered Florida Panther is very rare, very elusive, and nocturnal. The closest I have come to seeing one is passing a 'Panther Crossing' sign in the park. From what I understand, the best chance of seeing one is in the Long Pine Key area. Which makes sense because that area is on slightly higher ground (as opposed to the sawgrass marsh areas) and probably has a larger White-tailed deer population.

Wilderness Experience Perspective

The Everglades National Park has it all. For the adventurer try backcountry camping on the 99 mile Wilderness Waterway. If you desire something tamer, one can experience much of the wildlife from an auto tour.

Take note that winter is the busy season, you will usually be sharing space with others at the park road pull-offs. And while the marked hiking and canoe trails offer some solitude, don't be surprised if you meet others on your route. Even backcountry camping on the Wilderness Waterway is not a guarantee for seclusion. Boating is very popular in Florida and the Wilderness Waterway is not limited to canoes and kayaks. Many use motorized vehicles to travel to camp sites. You need to register and get a permit for backcountry camping.

My wilderness experience with backcountry camping was just so-so. Because of some potential storms in the 10,000 Island area of the Everglades, I elected to camp on one of the islands in Florida Bay (North Nest Key). I launched my canoe at Florida Bay Outfitters in Key Largo. The journey was somewhat uneventful but grueling. Because I had to constantly adjust my heading due to a moderate crosswind, the 8-9 mile trip ended up being a little over 11 miles. The beach I camped on was just gorgeous, the incline into the water just perfect, and instead of the muck commonly found in Florida Bay, the bottom was sand. Unfortunately this is a popular spot with day-use motorboats ... and I don't blame them! While I did enjoy the experience and the scenery, I was a little disappointed with sharing the area with so many others.

Photography Perspective

Wood Stork

Wood Stork, Anhinga Trail - Everglades
- Joe Kegley

During the dry season (December to April) water levels drop and wildlife congregate around deeper pools. This is the season to go for wildlife photography. An added benefit is that the mosquito levels will be at their minimum and the temperature more comfortable.

The winter is also nesting season in the Everglades for Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Brown Pelicans, Bald Eagles and Osprey. This is a double-edged sword. The positive side is you know the birds are there. From a negative perspective, some of the birds, Roseate Spoonbills for example, are very sensitive to human interruptions, so one should not approach them. They usually build their nest in discreet and inconspicuous areas. Take a very long telephoto lens. The Osprey on the other hand, sometimes build nest in heavily trafficked areas. They appear less sensitive to human presence, but regardless, you don't want to have an adverse effect on their behavior either so be considerate.

One of the best wildlife photography spots in the Everglades during the winter is the Royal Palm area (the Anhinga Trail). Ok, let's be honest, this is not a wilderness experience area. You will not be paddling for miles or having to use camo and a blind to capture your quarry with the camera here. If it is the 'chase' or the 'journey' you long for, then try the wilderness waterway. What one does here is ... park their vehicle in front of the visitor center and walk about 25 yards behind it to be exposed to a great representation of wildlife found throughout the Everglades National Park.

The Anhinga Trail behind the Royal Palm visitor center is a .5 mile (round trip) boardwalk through a sawgrass marsh. Much of the wildlife here is very acclimated to humans walking the trail. Depending what is out for the day, one can sometimes walk within 10 ft. of Great Blue Herons, Wood Storks, Anhinga, Cormorants, Little Blue Herons, Green Herons, or maybe a Purple Gallinule. Much of the time a long lens is not necessary. This is a great place to spend time working on your photography skills as opposed to spending time trying to locate wildlife.

In addition to a self guided auto tour, there are many local businesses that specialize in nature tours or eco tours. Some tours provide airboats rides, but I don't think that would be conducive to photography.

Gear/equipment Suggestions

  • Neoprene Hunting Boots - In case you need/want to go slogging through the sawgrass marsh.

  • Insect Repellent - While winter time is the down time for mosquitoes in the Everglades, they will often reappear after a rain or unusual warm weather. Summertime will be unbearable for most, even with insect repellent.

  • Canoe/Kayak - Should you decide on exploring via the water. Canoes can be rented in the Flamingo area.

Location and Points of Interest

Everglades National Park Map (Google interactive map)

left double click to zoom in
right double click to zoom out
click and drag to move
hover over markers to see descriptions

I suggest you 'left double click' to zoom in for more a more detailed view. Note, clicking on the balloon markers does nothing.

Additional Information

  • http://www.nps.gov/ever/ - Everglades National Park from the National Park Service web site.
  • http://evergladesdiary.com/ - Everglades Diary - Canoeing the Wilderness Waterway of the Florida Everglades. I strongly suggest this site if you want to explore the Everglades via canoe or kayak camping. The author has tips, trip reports, and a campsite directory with campsite photos, taken from his excursions on the Everglades Wilderness Waterway. A great web site.
  • http://www.everglades.org/ - Friends of the Everglades. A non-profit grass roots organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the Everglades.

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